On Mishearing Songs

My current favorite song in the entire universe is “Counting Stars” by One Republic (if you haven’t heard it yet, listen here). One of the beauties of hearing a song on the radio before watching a lyrics-included version on YouTube is that I have to decide for myself what the slightly slurred words are, which can sometimes lead to me thinking the song says something it doesn’t say. For example, when I heard “Counting Stars” for the first time (and quite a few times after that) I thought one of the parts says, “And I don’t think the world is sold on just doing what we’re told.” That’s a pretty incredible sentiment there, belief that the world can be more than merely blind followers of a system that is all too frequently not interested in making the world a better place. Those lines say, “No, the world is not going to stand by and let WorldSuck keep increasing, instead we’re going to fight to increase Awesome!” Those lines say, “There is hope for a better world!”

Those lines aren’t exactly in the song.

What the song actually says is, “And I don’t think the world is sold / I’m just doing what we’re told.”

And that is an entirely different message. Those lines say, “I blindly follow directions even though no one likes what I’m doing.” That one little word completely changes the meaning of the entire line!

What I find most interesting about the whole thing, however, is that before I realized I misheard the line, I believed the song was about hope for a better world, which led me to actually have more hope in humanity.  What I heard and how I understood the song made me want to fight for a better world.  Those lines weren’t intended to do that, but they still had the same result. Which leads me to an interesting question: If a song is misheard and its misunderstood meaning results in desires or actions, can one say that the song is about the misheard thing as well as the intended thing? Because while I believed I heard the song correctly, I very much believed the song was about improving the world and reducing WorldSuck. 

John Green once said, “Books belong to their readers.” My non-rhetorical question of the day is this: Do songs belong to their hearers as well?


One thought on “On Mishearing Songs

  1. Sometimes, we interpret things that we hear very differently. And some people deliberately take the funny version of it. Some words are related and sound alike. I remember hearing a song that has a lyrics “bye, bye beautiful” in it, but when you hear the song it kinda sound like “cry, die, beautiful”

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